Editorial Guidelines

25 May

They are those codes of practise, which most news organisations and journalists strive to uphold; the policies, which are meant to maintain integrity, trustworthiness and ethical behaviour. They are the guidelines I have had to read, refer to and have a pretty good understanding of for the majority of my career as a journalist, whether from a small, local radio station to a national newsroom. Editorial codes are the standards for accuracy, fairness, lawfulness, impartiality, and the procedures to follow if these standards are not met.  They offer journalists guidance for telling stories and portraying characters while ensuring coverage is balanced, diverse and innovative without compromising integrity or quality. Suddenly I am struck at how similar they are to the new ‘editorial guidelines’ I face.

Anyone writing a manuscript knows the importance of having a diversity of characters, striking a good balance of action, narrative and dialogue, maintaining quality over quantity and all without compromising on creativity. This is easily said but hard to master. A short session with an editor has helped me see the flaws and pitfalls to my recent manuscript but has also given me an encouraging push to pursue the novel, the premise of which she really liked. Right now I am concentrating on defining my characters and giving them more depth; pulling at the threads and seeing their souls laid bare, in essence, getting to know them all better and rediscovering their little idiosyncrasies. I realise I have fallen victim to the ‘telling not showing’ trap a few times and am hoping that by correcting this, the characters will more explode on to the page rather than merely shuffle in self-consciously!

I was given a further burst of inspiration and motivation at the Sydney Writers Festival this week. I have attended talks on female fiction, writing narrative, creating tension and suspense, characterisation and even promoting your efforts through blogging and social media. I have heard from best-selling authors, industry experts and publishing gurus and what is more, the whole event was free! There were workshops and ticketed events you could pay for but this was a festival accessible to all and it was possible to fill each day soaking up wisdom and advice from those in the know for no more than the cost of the journey to get there. On that note, the festival was held in the industrial, warehouse-style setting of the Sydney Dance Company‘s studios, overlooking Sydney Harbour at Walsh B ay.

‘The Loft’ where a few of the sessions were held was a cavernous space with stable-doors set high up the wall and thick-set wooden posts soaring up to the girders overhead. Chairs and iron-framed bookshelves were placed on beaten floorboards in front of the stage and it was set for the talk to follow: from cosy armchairs and table lamps to a more corporate look. Each session I went to was packed and even Thursday’s freezing weather and lashing rain didn’t deter thousands turning up and queuing for talks. There was a diverse mix of ages, backgrounds and professions. I talked to university students studying English and media through to retirees who were battling through their first novels. Aspiring writers and journalists mingled with stay-at-home mums and professionals and there really was something for everyone: from historians to tech-wizards and above all, anyone who reads or writes.

A fantastic talk by Scarlett Thomas persuaded me to buy her book: Monkeys with Typewriters, a practical and inspirational guide to all aspects of writing… That will be my reading material for the next few days and as for my writing – well that is a work in progress with some sound guidelines to keep me on the right track 🙂


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